EMS’s Role in the Effort to End Human Trafficking

Leaders from the DHS’s Blue Campaign share real scenarios and EMS-specific training materials to identify and help human trafficking victims

In 2012, Alex Campbell, 45, of Glenview, Illinois received a life sentence after he mentally and physically abused four women while forcing them into prostitution. Campbell branded his victims in highly visible places — tattoos stamped on necks, wrists, or in one case, a 60-word homage to Campbell covering a woman's entire back.

Although it is one of the more harrowing examples, this situation isn’t unique. Each year, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are impacted by human trafficking in the United States.

"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery," said Kathryn Brinsfield, MD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). "EMS employees working on the frontlines, whether on an ambulance or at a hospital, you are in a place to recognize and report human trafficking."

On January 25, Brinsfield joined Scott Santoro, DHS Blue Campaign Training Advisor; Ray Mollers from the DHS Medical First Responder Coordination Branch; and Noah Smith, MPH, EMT, a project manager with the NHTSA Office of EMS, to discuss the Blue Campaign and EMS’s role in the effort to end human trafficking. The webinar was the latest installment in EMS Focus, a series that educates the EMS community on Federal EMS initiatives and programs.

The Department of Homeland Security created the Blue Campaign to unify efforts to combat human trafficking and foster collaboration among government and non-governmental organizations, private companies, law enforcement and EMS.

"EMS has an important role to play in the effort to end human trafficking," Smith said. "As responders who are often the first to arrive at a scene, EMS practitioners are in a position to look for key indicators to identify potential victims, provide the appropriate care and access to resources, and potentially save a life."

During the webinar, Santoro and Mollers also introduced a training video made specifically for the EMS community. The video, which is meant to be used by local EMS agencies to train field personnel, is available online.

In the webinar, Santoro, who manages human trafficking awareness training programs for federal, state and local law enforcement, explained that although they’re very different crimes, human trafficking is often confused with smuggling. The root cause of this misperception, according to Santoro, is that the word "trafficking" immediately brings to mind drug trafficking, which is the movement of drugs across borders.

"I almost wish we could have referred to this crime not as human 'trafficking,' but the more appropriate word, which is human 'exploitation,'" Santoro said. "With human trafficking, one can be trafficked in one’s hometown." In fact, Santoro said, the majority of victims in the United States are actually U.S. citizens.

Santoro explained that because victims are bound by psychological, physical or economic coercion, they often won’t identify themselves or seek help. But EMS practitioners and other healthcare providers are uniquely situated to recognize indicators and potentially save human trafficking victims.

Some of those signs include symptoms of abuse, submissive behavior, malnourishment or mutilations. For a more thorough list of indicators, view or download a DHS fact sheet here.

Santoro also said that trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality. While traffickers often prey on victims who are vulnerable because of their immigration status, reporting victims would not condemn them to deportation, but could instead save their lives. Law enforcement and Homeland Security officials, he said, worked closely together to provide immigration benefits so victims would not be deported.

Through the Blue Campaign, the Department of Homeland Security and its partners developed a robust public awareness and media campaign along with training materials to increase awareness and understanding of human trafficking indicators. The training materials are accessible on the campaign’s website.

A recording of the webinar is archived on the EMS Focus website.

To report a possible human trafficking case, please call the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423). You can also report online at https://www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-tip-form.